VERO BEACH - Attendance at beaches in Vero Beach is booming.
Visits to the three guarded beaches at Jaycee, Humiston and South Beach Parks broke records in 2018. The Vero Beach Lifeguard Association estimates 838,981 visitors for the year, breaking the previous record of 778,000 in 2012.
The Vero Beach Lifeguard Association Yearly Report For The Beaches of Vero Beach, 2018 indicates areas of both optimism and concern.
The report praised the Vero Beach City Council for extending lifeguard hours from 5-7 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The VBLA said that simple change may result in less drowning.
Also receiving praise from the lifeguards is the Vero Beach Police Department, for increasing patrols on the beach and developing better communication with lifeguards.
In fact, the lifeguards recommend that they be moved from the Recreation Department to the Police Department, since they perform a public safety function. The VBLA argues that the move would promote better coordination of public safety personnel and functions, and that it makes sense to have public safety services in the same department.
This is the fifth straight year that Vero Beach beaches have seen an increase in attendance. In 2013, attendance was 600,880; in 2014, 652,229; in 2015, 658,403; in 2016, 698,375; in 2017, 755,339; in 2018, 838,981.
The increase from 2017 to 2018 was almost 84,000, or 11 percent.
Six individual months broke attendance records. In June, the guarded beaches saw 110,000 visitors, the highest attendance recorded in any month since VBLA started tracking attendance in 2011.
On the other end of the attendance spectrum, Oct. 2018 saw nearly record low beach attendance due to Red Tide. Noting damage Red Tide caused to the ecosystem, beachside businesses, and the respiratory health of those nearby, the VBLA praised both the city and Indian River County for their clean-up efforts.
The VBLA estimates attendance only at the three lifeguarded beaches plus 100 yards to the north and south of each guarded beach. VBLA numbers do not include the other 89 percent of the four miles of beaches in Vero Beach. Including the unguarded beaches, the VBLA estimates the total number of visitors at over 1 million per year.
The percentage of unguarded beaches is one of the negatives highlighted by the report. On the southeast coast of Florida, Vero Beach ranks 2nd with the least guarded beach area (.34 miles), 3rd with the smallest percent of guarded beach (nine percent), and 3rd with the farthest distance between lifeguard towers (one mile). Vero Beach ranked 3rd behind Miami Beach and Hollywood Beach with the largest number of beach patrons per tower, 219,500.
“Due to increased visitors and possibly the lack of parking along the beach, crowds are spreading out, away from guarded areas making it difficult for lifeguards to adequately protect the public in these areas,” the report warns.
About half of all water rescues and medical emergencies happened outside the lifeguarded areas.
A specific concern of the lifeguards is the unguarded Central Beach area north of Humiston Park to Conn Beach. Central Beach is popular with visitors staying at beachside hotels, but “is unprotected by lifeguards and is outside the line of sight of lifeguards at Humiston and Jaycee Park lifeguard towers.”
The towers they do have need renovation or replacement.
“The lifeguard tower at Humiston Park is in disrepair. Lifeguards are unable to see much of the beach without having to improvise by sitting outside the tower on the boardwalk, in the elements, distracted by patrons, and easy targets for those in the public who wish to do them harm.”
The VBLA is conducting a fundraising campaign to build a command center and new lifeguard tower at Humiston Park. The lifeguards say they need a better field of vision to achieve faster response times.
The VBLA report warned that grooming the beach has significant negatives.
“By grooming the beach, seaweed is removed, causing the beach to be weakened. Seaweed is an essential part of a healthy beach. It traps seeds and other natural materials that promote dune growth. Seabirds and crabs feed on insects and bugs found in the seaweed. The disadvantage of grooming the beach can be observed at South Beach Park, where the groomed area is void of dunes. In contrast, the areas not groomed have propagated healthy dunes which protect private and public property during storms.”
The lifeguards were involved in 33 water rescues in 2018, an increase from 19 in 2017 but about average over time, ranging from the low of 19 in 2017 to a high of 71 in 2013.
Medical emergencies improved to their lowest level in seven years, with 237 in 2018, compared to a prior low of 291 in 2016, and a high of 613 in 2013. There were no fatalities at Vero Beach beaches in 2018.
The report raised additional concerns including hazards to swimmers from the prefabricated erosion prevention reef that runs 3,000 feet north from Humiston Park. VBLA lifeguards offered to continue to volunteer to install reef buoys to prevent injuries to swimmers.
The VBLA says dogs continue to be a problem on the beach, reminding that city and county ordinances prohibit dogs other than service dogs.
The report adds that restrooms and other park infrastructure at Jaycee, Humiston and South Beaches need repair and remodeling.
Finally, the lifeguards recommend that recycling bins be returned to the beaches, noting that the bins were well used before they were removed.
For more information, email VeroBeachLA@Yahoo.com or visit www.VBLA.org. The VBLA is a non-profit organization, and it is accepts donations for the new lifeguard tower at Humiston Park, and other needs.